The Dakar 2017 wrapped up in Buenos Aires on Saturday. After over 9,000km of harsh South American terrain, the 2017 Dakar Rally came to an end in typical party-like fashion as the cars, bikes, quads, and trucks rolled through to the finish line.
Despite Honda’s mighty CRF450 Rally claiming half of the stage victories in the 2017 Dakar (five in total due to stages 6 and 9 being cancelled), consistency and keeping within the strict rules meant the overall 2017 Dakar win went to KTM rider Sam Sunderland.
It was a hard pill for the Honda team to swallow, with each of its riders getting penalised around one hour after a fuel stop outside the designated area early in the rally. Joan Barreda rode incredibly, setting blistering times and taking stage wins for the team, but overall he couldn’t overcome the penalty time and came in 43minutes behind Sunderland in fifth place overall. The Honda team can now only wonder what could have been if not for Barreda’s 58minute penalty…
“The end of the rally has arrived and the sensation that you’ve spent the whole year working towards this race, said Barreda. “Here, I did everything that I could, but we were unable to reach the goal. But from the inside the feeling is a good one. I feel calm because I’ve given it my best shot and have done the best that I possibly could. Over the whole year I’ve worked really hard and that shows. Last year we made some changes to get to the Dakar even stronger and these have been very positive: we have developed a really magnificent bike which hasn’t given the slightest problem throughout the race and the team has worked really well together. Ricky has taken a giant leap forward; Mika was always very close and Paulo was always in the top positions. We have a really strong team and we have to be pleased about that.”
Sam Sunderland on the other hand rode a penalty free Dakar to first place in Beunos Aires with an overall time of 32hours, 6minutes, and 22 seconds.
Sunderland went into the final swift 64 km timed special with 33-minute advantage on his KTM 450 RALLY and the task of holding his nerve and getting the job done. He completed the stage in a comfortable sixth place and sacrificed only a couple of minutes. After almost 9,000 km through Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, he topped the podium in Argentina.
“When I crossed the line my emotions really took over. Sunderland said. “I’ve had a lot of weight on my shoulders for the last six days. Now it feels incredible. I have to say thanks to my team, the bike has been great from start to finish. When Toby (Price) went out of the race it was a blow to the team as he’s a good friend. Because of the strong bonds we have in our team it helped us to pull together and strive to do something special. There’s a lot of fast guys that have the potential to win this race, I think cutting out the mistakes was the key to this win.”
Coming in second place was Sunderland’s KTM Factory Racing teammate Matthias Walkner, after Husqvarna’s Pablo Quintanilla withdrew from the rally elevating him in the standings. The result was a KTM sweep of the podium with Gerard Farres Guell claiming the third spot 35minutes and 40seconds behind Sunderland.
Pela Renet was left to be Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s standard-bearer after his teammate Pablo Quintanilla went out injured in stage ten with the finish so near after a gruelling ride, and after riding into second overall. Quintanilla, who had sustained a concussion in a crash which caused him to suffer from recurring dizzy spells, was unable to continue. Fortunately he had no other serious injuries. He finished third in the 2016 edition, which was the first contested by the then newly formed factory team. Quintanilla returned home to Chile after the crash and is committed to being fit to defend his 2016 FIM Cross Country Rallies Championship title in the 2017 season.
Spanish KTM factory rider Laia Sanz, who had a very successful second week after losing time in the first week, wrapped up her rally at 16th overall, just one place short of her pre-race goal of a top 15 finish. Also the women’s World Enduro Champion, Sanz is the standout woman rally-raid rider.
Stefan Svitko, who finished second last year collapsed with exhaustion at the end of the 10th special and had to be transported by ambulance to the bivouac. He later returned, picked up his bike and was on the start for Friday’s penultimate stage. Svitko crossed the finish line in overall 25th place.
KTM first won the Dakar Rally in 2001 and has topped the podium every subsequent year, with the exception of 2008 when the race was cancelled on the eve of departure because of terrorist threats in North Africa. It regrouped for the 2009 edition, held in for the first time in South America, where it has developed a huge following and is an annual sporting highlight. The sport is also attracting a new generation of South American rally-raid talent.
In all, 97 bikes of the 143 starters finished this year’s Dakar. A monumental effort considering the race’s reputation as the toughest race in the world, where getting to the finish line is a victory in of itself.